Progress has been made since PCS withdrew bulletin 43 due to change of Health and Safety (H&S) guidance and further negotiation with the senior DWP H&S managers.
The change of guidance was that the HSE have decided that in some cases Coronavirus is RIDDOR reportable. This is when an unintended incident at work has led to someone’s possible or actual exposure to coronavirus. To be RIDDOR reportable there needs to be a completed accident report under ill health and dangerous occurrence.
It is management’s responsibility to undertake the investigation and take any remedial action involving the local PCS H&S reps in the investigation as Sodexo’s remit does not cover ill health. The line manager can complete the accident form in the member’s absence – we would expect this needs to happen in the majority of cases as the member with coronavirus symptoms will have been sent straight home. Whilst management’s view of the HSE guidance, which varies from our view, is the likelihood that there will need to be a RIDDOR report for Coronavirus is extremely low if at all from the DWP.
They did agree that the fact that there is a potential corvid-19 case in the workplace gives an ideal opportunity for the local manager and PCS rep to investigate and review the control measures and make sure they are working effectively. The DWP guidance on what should be done following a potential case of Corvid-19 in the workplace is based on social distancing and good hygiene measures being properly and effectively in place. If these measures are not in place then further measures should urgently be discussed to stop the spread of the virus in the workplace and protect the safety of members.
In this briefing we recognise that we need to involve all of our depleted numbers of reps in the workplaces who have a varying range of experience in H&S. We have worded it to be helpful to everyone in this work and endeavoured to cover the areas where we have had the most queries so bear with us for stating the obvious in some instances.
Remember that coronavirus activity is currently classed as official time so there should be no problem with your release or time to carry out these activities.
We have not been able to reach agreement on the Risk Assessment (RA) as the only one that has been produced is to amend the JCFRA. PCS is bemused why this should be the case unless there are offices that do not have a risk assessment to review.
All sites should have valid risk assessment that is reviewed annually or when there is an incidence. They should either have a JCFRA, a site and CHRA or a Co-location RA. These risk assessments should cover all parts of the business on that site and the Senior Responsible Officer (SRO) is liable if there is non-compliance. Some sites have already reviewed their site RA due to the crisis which was the correct thing to do, but many others have not.
This is why specific guidance has now had to be produced to ensure all DWP sites risk assess the impact of the coronavirus and what measures need to be put in place to protect all DWP staff and the public.
Health and Safety Prompt Sheet
Despite not being able to agree on the risk assessment we have since worked with senior DWP H&S managers on the content of H&S Prompt sheet for all sites to use in conjunction with the RA form. This covers nearly all the items we had wanted to be contained in the risk assessment and requires signatures of both the local PCS H&S Rep and the local management.
These signatures can be electronic and the meetings should take place following social distancing guidelines. In sites where the only rep is not health and safety trained they can be offered support from branch or regional H&S reps who could dial in from other sites.
The local knowledge of the site is invaluable in discussing what specific control measures would work in that site given each site varies so much. Where the reps with the knowledge of the site are based on a different site they can arrange to have the discussion about the risk assessment with the local manager by phone or skype.
We have provided the H&SBP team with the details of who to contact in each region and nation if managers are struggling to find a local rep to do the risk assessment with, so that PCS can find a rep to cover the meeting to discuss the risk assessment for the site. We have attached the Prompt Sheet to this briefing and the headings below will cover some of the issues.
Access and Egress
It’s really important that people do not crowd together in doorways and that they also maintain social distancing in corridors or on stairs. We are in a crisis situation and it’s important that we do all we can to keep ourselves and our colleagues safe.
Lifts are a particular hotspot and in the main they would only be able to take one person at a time unless they are particularly big. Make sure there is a process to keep the buttons clean.
Whilst it is important for everyone to continue to regularly and thoroughly wash your hands with soap and hot water and use hand towels to dry your hands, every site should also have additional measures to help all staff keep their hands clean. You should check that hand sanitiser has been supplied to the site and is effectively placed in the site. Hand sanitiser stocks are now being co-ordinated centrally and we have been assured that supplies are being sent to the SRO and/or Facilities manager for each site.
The problem is that after washing your hands and exiting every toilet and many of the other areas with sinks you need to open doors and touch hard surfaces etc. before you can return to your workstation. A control measure to deal with this is for staff to use paper towels to open doors which they should bin properly and then use hand sanitiser when they get back to their workstations.
There should also be soap in kitchens and tea points – this is not automatically supplied under the facilities management but needs to be obtained so that all staff can wash their hands thoroughly with soap and hot water before preparing and eating food.
There should be enhanced cleaning processes being done in all our offices. This means touchpoint cleaning (doors, door handles, data locks, sinks, taps, soap dispensers, tea point fixtures, and desks etc.) throughout the working day. If this is not happening this should be raised locally and escalated.
Staff are responsible for cleaning their own computer, keyboard and mouse and chair with wipes. Phones should not be shared.
We are still in talks about deep cleaning and there will be a further bulletin on this later in the week. Hot desking should be avoided as this can help spread the virus. If a member of staff is off and someone else will be using that desk there should be a thorough clean of desks and equipment prior to another person using it.
You should seek assurances that there are plenty of cleaning materials for all staff to clean their own workstation kit on site. We have had feedback that the cleaning regime on some of the co-located sites is well below the standards being introduced into the DWP buildings so this should be raised with local managers in the risk assessment process as well as highlighting the details with Group office.
This is one of the key areas where management need to work closely with PCS H&S reps. It is essential that this is done properly to protect all of us and our families.
Everyone has to have at least a 2 metre (6 foot) space around them in all directions at all times from other people in the site. In Wales this has become law this week and all DWP workplaces are required to comply with these guidelines and legislation. Social distancing is important for all interactions between staff in the site (as well as outside) and must be maintained at all times.
This means that local managers and PCS H&S reps need to discuss how to ensure these guidelines are adhered to at all times throughout the site.
To help ensure staff are properly spaced out across the site a rule of thumb can be used that staff cannot sit at desks next to one another nor directly opposite. Depending on the size of the desks diagonally opposite should help staff keep 2m apart from their colleagues. Care must be taken to ensure the 2m space also applies between staff sat back to back.
Desks and IT kit may need to be moved to ensure that the 2m spacing in all directions around each member of staff can be complied with. Attention also needs to be paid to entry points to the building, stairwells, corridors and lifts to keep the 2m spacing between all staff at all points. Unless the lift in a site is exceptionally large there is likely to be a need to introduce measures for only one person to use the lift at a time, the same may apply to flights of stairs.
The 2m spacing also needs to be applied to areas such as toilets, breakout areas, tea-points and photocopiers. Any meetings or training that are held should only be held in rooms with sufficient space to allow all staff to be 2 metres apart. Where this becomes more difficult to organise, other means of communication can be explored like using skype meetings to involve more than just a few staff. This recognises that interaction and discussion between staff is also important, to address how to deal with issues and processes in the best possible way together.
The public facing areas in jobcentres should have the 2m spacing clearly marked out with tape to ensure that the public we are still seeing face to face can readily see how far they need to remain from staff. Using tape can also be useful as a reminder of the space that needs to be kept between staff in all sites such as around tea-points, photocopiers etc. It may be worth spreading out the seating in canteens and break out areas so that there are consistent reminders to everyone to remain 2m apart from others.
There is plenty for the local managers and PCS H&S reps to discuss in how to implement social distancing properly and make it work in the specific site. To properly introduce social distancing, it is likely that at most half of the normal staffing levels for the site can be safely accommodated on a site and it is likely to be a lot lower numbers than this given the shape of a lot of sites.
There should be a discussion about the safe maximum staffing levels that a site can safely accommodate with social distancing. In sites with too many staff to be safely accommodated, urgent discussions need to take place to ensure that maximum safe staffing levels are not exceeded.
PCS reps should argue for the extra staff to be sent home whilst solutions can be sought for them to keep all sites safe for all. No members of staff should be sent to or arrive in sites without notice so that it can be checked beforehand that there is sufficient room for them to be accommodated safely. In some sites there will be extra space and it is a good idea to mark out desks that can be safely used using social distancing for additional staff.
PCS is pushing for the means to enable as many staff to work from home as possible and thus avoid the risks of travelling to and from work and mixing with other people in the workplace all day. As far as possible those not working from home should be working from their home office as this helps spread staff out evenly across all sites. As the main focus of the department is to prioritise delivering payments to the public whilst keeping us all safe, all sites will be playing a similar part in helping to deliver on this.
There may be some instances where it is easier and safer for an individual to remain in work if they could work from a site that is closer to where they live. It is essential that proper discussion takes place between the line manager and managers in the potential new site to see if this is feasible, work can be done from the alternative site and support given and that the move can be done safely, before any action is taken.
Training space also has to take account of social distancing and can be delivered in a number of safe ways. Trainers or mentors should support staff through remote methods.
If members have not dealt with the public before then they must do the keeping safe training. If they have not done telephony work before to the extent that we are now doing it for speaking to the public or each other, they need to ensure that they have headsets (whilst awaiting headsets it is essential that staff take additional DSE breaks to avoid musculo-skeletal disorders trying to hold your phone between your ear and neck whilst typing)
There is a lot of detail in the DWP Contact Centre H&S Framework which covers all staff who are doing a lot of work on the phone whilst also using a computer. Staff doing new work need to be supported and be aware of where and how they can get support remotely, understand the processes around the six-point plan and how to report incidents via the Unacceptable Customer Behaviour process.
Fire and Bomb and First Aid
With so many people off the numbers and spread of fire and bomb wardens and first aiders need to be kept constantly under review to ensure this meets the needs of the site. Fire alarms should continue to be tested.
Fire doors must never be propped open as their purpose is to help save lives in the event of a fire in the building. As there is no intention to do drills during this crisis it is vital that assurance is done that all staff are familiar with the evacuation procedures and routes and all new staff to the site need to be made fully aware. It is worth checking if the muster points are suitable and large enough to accommodate social distancing.
If the muster point is moved, again it is vital that all staff know where the revised muster point is. All normal safety rules apply. These rules also apply when overtime is being worked.
First Aid boxes need to be checked to ensure that there is sufficient supplies and stock of gloves and after checking the boxes need to be cleaned. First aiders must take all precautions to maintain their safety as well as preserving the safety of staff. We have raised that masks would be helpful for first aiders in the current time and will continue to have discussions at national level about measures to help protect first aiders and those they are helping.
PEEPS (personal emergency evacuation plans)
If someone has a PEEP these need to be reviewed in the light of the impact of covid-19. Checks need to be made to see whether their buddy(ies) are consistently on site and in the right place. Can the buddy safely help the member out in case of evacuation at the same time as maintaining social distancing. Should the person with the PEEP still be in work? The plan in place has to be safe for all involved.
Stress, Anxiety and Welfare
There is a lot of advice on the intranet and via the PAM site. In the risk assessment process it is important to ensure that measures are taken to keep everyone aware of the support that is available in what is a challenging and stressful situation. Support should be given to team leaders to help them support all of their team in the workplace and at home.
It can be stressful being isolated at home and encouraging team leaders and teams to take proactive supportive measures to involve everyone including those at home can help alleviate this sources of stress. It would be worth highlighting that PCS reps can assist individuals with their stress self-assessment and access the procedures to get support.
What can assist members get through this stressful situation is to be trusted and valued to do their work. It would be worth raising any instances of micro-management and pressure with targets etc. which run counter to a supportive approach for staff. This can increase the levels of anxiety and do not help with promoting the health, safety and welfare of all staff during this period. All staff should be encouraged to take all their breaks.
There are also other measures that may need to be considered to address the circumstances that Corvid-19 is creating for staff - like difficulties with public transport getting into work, difficulties getting food supplies or bank services after work which a flexible, supportive approach from managers can really assist with.
General Health and Safety
There are general principles that can help avoid the spread of the coronavirus. Routine visits to sites should be postponed. Staff should remain in their home sites and keep in touch with the rest of their team on other sites via phone and skype rather than travelling between sites.
Only essential maintenance work should be taking place on sites and sites should be given advance notice of planned visits of contractors which should help ensure that routine non-essential work can be delayed until after the crisis. The normal workplace inspections will not be taking place for the time being to avoid Facilities Managers travelling from site to site as they could be spreading the virus.
They should only come to sites for urgent issues. PCS reps should avoid going to other sites but ensure that they are fully supporting members and other reps remotely as far as is possible by phone, email or skype. PCS branches can escalate issues that cannot be resolved locally and we can work to raise with national management to get things sorted. We do not want you to have to put yourself at risk. If you need evidence get members to take a photo and send it to you. But you must ensure you do not breach any security protocols.
We also do not want to see managers visiting a number of sites as it does not raise morale. It scares people when their leaders cannot follow the safety rules.
Business continuity plans and LIMPs should reflect the new guidance and should be shared with PCS reps.
PCS negotiators are conscious that this is a continuously developing situation dealing with Corvid-19 and the consequences in increased workloads and demand on the DWP. Whilst we want managers on every site to discuss and complete the Corvid-19 Risk Assessment in conjunction with PCS H&S reps to ensure that control measures are properly introduced in every site to deal with the risk this situation poses.
It is also crucial that good consultation is continued to respond to the developing situation and to address new processes that are planned. In this way control measures can be kept up to date and the effectiveness of the measures kept under review as necessary.
If there are any issues that branches cannot resolve locally, please escalate them to Group office urgently.